The Kuznets Visitors Program brings prominent development economists to Yale

by Eda Aker
December 21, 2022

The Economic Growth Center has expanded the programming of its long-running lecture series to bring to campus short-term visitors who can advance research priorities and provide diverse perspectives to the development economics community at Yale. 

In their 1-2 week stay, outside collaborators who are part of the Kuznets Visitors Program are given the opportunity to meet with their coauthors in person, connect with student groups, and deliver tailored seminars. They are selected on a nomination basis and can come from any background. 

Meredith Startz headshot
Meredith Startz is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College whose research focuses on how information problems shape transactions and firms in developing countries. 

“I think the Kuznets Program’s willingness to engage with fellow junior faculty has been really wonderful,” said Lauren Falcao Bergquist, Assistant Professor of Economics and Global Affairs who joined EGC and the newly founded Jackson School of Global Affairs in Sumer 2022. “That and the support for women and other underrepresented groups within economics, has been unique in the program.” 

Bergquist helped successfully launch this program by hosting its two first visitors. 

Meredith Startz of Dartmouth, who received her Ph.D. in Economics from Yale in 2017, returned to campus under the program in late October. Startz worked with Bergquist to finish analysis of an intervention that entailed randomizing access to a platform that matches buyers and sellers in agricultural markets in Uganda. 

“Everyone at the Economic Growth Center was welcoming. I packed as many seminars, coffees, lunches, dinners, and walks around campus into two weeks as I could, and had a lot of great conversations,” Startz said.

#Kuznets2023 will focus on norms, gender & development

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Startz added that the highlight of her experience was connecting with researchers at Yale and being exposed to new methods of exploring topics in development, trade, and macroeconomics.

“Being at Yale always makes me feel a nice combination of pressure to think hard and think clearly while being supported by people and resources to enable exploration,” she said. I always have the feeling that we're all trying to figure out how the world works, together, and that re-energizes me. I would never pass up an opportunity to come to the EGC.”

Jie Bai headshot
Jie Bai is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School whose research focuses on microeconomic issues of firms in developing countries and emerging markets.

Jie Bai of Harvard Kennedy School visited EGC for a week in mid-November and collaborated with Bergquist on a project focusing on market frictions in the coffee industry in Uganda and how to incentivize increasing the production of high-quality coffee, a valuable commodity. Bai too is a Yale alum, having graduated from Yale College in 2011 with a degree in Economics & Mathematics. 

She noted that the Kuznets Program’s flexibility allows visitors to make the most of their time at Yale and pack in as much “mutual learning” and “mutual benefit” as possible. This, she said, is a rare resource for university researchers to test ideas and inspire new research collaborations. 

“I value the in-person interaction and time to work with my co-author,” Bai said. “I think there’s still a lot of Zoom calls with people from different parts of the country, but in-person interactions even for a short period are far more productive.”

Bilal Moin, a Yale junior and one of the organizers of the Salus Populi Foundation, said that Bai gave an inspiring talk to the first-year fellows of this student-led club. “She used her research on the Ugandan coffee sector to illustrate the complexities of development, and the unique ways economists can help shape public policy,” He said. “It was a real privilege to have an intimate conversation with such a knowledgeable and passionate researcher.”

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Deputy Director of EGC, explained what the program has in store. “We have an exciting line-up of visitors for the Spring – including Esteban Méndez-Chacón from the Central Bank of Costa Rica, Ben Marx from SciencesPo in Paris, and Raquel Bernal from Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia,” she said. “Having researchers come to join us from other countries is very aligned with the EGC’s founding and mission, and we hope these engagements strengthen research in the field and foster a sense of inter-university collaboration internationally.”​​

Rohini Pande, Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics and Director of the Economic Growth Center, explained that the visitors program builds off one of EGC's longest-running activities, the annual Simon Kuznets Memorial Lecture, which has been bringing prominent economists to Yale since 1986. The lecture series was founded by EGC Faculty members to honor Simon Kuznets, the Nobel laureate who had helped found the Center.  

"The visitors program is very much in the spirit of the larger Kuznets agenda that has been an integral part of EGC," Pande said. "It's all about allowing researchers to interact and exchange ideas, and to give students access to the latest ideas in development economics.